The Liberate Program at Waverley College is designed to provide students with a learning environment that is suited to their personal needs. By changing the teaching approach to promote collaborative learning, students of all levels of ability are engaged equally. Using test data to assess the learning gain of individual students and groups also helps teachers identify strategies for ongoing improvement.
Data gives us a snapshot of the boys when they come into Waverley College. The diagnostic testing that we do is very similar to NAPLAN with reading, writing and comprehension. So when they come into Year 7 we have a bit of an idea of their ability.
This is quite important, because the Year 7 and Year 9 data we receive breaks down specific areas of numeracy and literacy to target specific areas of learning, help us develop programs, or identify what support students need throughout the year. For example, in the English Department, spelling is a target. So we’re now developing strategies to target spelling in our programs.
Using data isn’t new. But it’s becoming a bigger conversation amongst us as leaders of the school and across departments. It’s how we analyse it and the strategies we use that make a difference. We’ve evolved so that each department has teaching strategies that come out of analysis. When we’ve found some of the strategies in place are effective, we’re sharing the insights across the teams.
Working with other heads of department, especially with the Learning Support team, has provided a lot of insights from the data. This means I can stream classes. We’re seeing results in the HSC. Since 2011, we’ve seen significant improvement in English results, but also in the culture the students have developed around achievement. We have a very tight and refined schedule to ensure the students are working, feeding off each other to help each other.
In a lot of the work with Literacy there is an emphasis on reading and writing. But I’m also finding with our Liberate Program that the scaffolding is really important. It means that we can have a consistent whole-school literacy framework for students from Years 5–12, which is integrated into all subjects. We’ve come a long way. So many parents congratulate students on Extension 2 English. Our boys can really write! And it’s achievable for all students. They just need an understanding of what’s required and a belief that they can do it.
Applying a Blended Learning approach is really important. It provides staff with choices when their teaching applies to a wide range of subjects and skill sets. For example, in one period of English, a teacher can review a student poll completed before the lesson, which will be stimulus for discussion. They can then create activities for different groups within the class off the back of that discussion. This broadens opportunities for learning and writing practice in every lesson. Haiku (the online learning system) gives students more resources and opportunities to participate. So more reticent students can contribute to class discussions online, and read each others’ ideas. In a traditional classroom, this type of student wouldn’t have been able to get their ideas across. This is what Blended Learning means to us.